Parliament likely to be convened next week

Stabroek News
April 18, 2001

Parliament could be convened any time after Monday following the publication of the names of the persons extracted from the lists of candidates of the parties that won seats in the 65-seat National Assembly at the March 19 elections.

Under Article 69(1) of the Constitution, the President must convene parliament within four months of February 15, the date on which it was dissolved.

At the elections the PPP/Civic won 34 seats; the PNC/R won 27 seats; the GAP/WPA alliance won two seats; and ROAR and the TUF each won one seat. There are 18 women among the 65 members of the Assembly, four of whom hold ministerial appointments. The ministers are Gail Teixeira, Dr Jennifer Westford, Carolyn Rodrigues and Bibi Shadick.

Also likely to be convened before the end of the month are the ten regional democratic councils (RDCs) the elections for which were also held on March 19. The names of the members of those councils have also been extracted and will be published by the Elections Commission. The PPP/Civic has the largest block of seats on the RDCs for Regions One, Two, Three, Five and 6; the PNC/R has the largest block of seats on the RDCs for Regions Four, Seven, Eight and Ten; and GAP/WPA on the Region Nine RDC.

With four months of the year almost completed, President Bharrat Jagdeo could possibly be looking to convene the parliament as early as next week so that the necessary budgetary provisions for this year could be made. Finance Minister, Saisnarine Kowlessar, has 90 days from the date the National Assembly meets in its first session of the Eighth Parliament to lay an Appropriations Bill before it. President Jagdeo has indicated that such a bill could be laid within six weeks of the first sitting of the National Assembly.

Other business that would be tabled as a matter of urgency in the National Assembly based on statements by President Jagdeo and mentioned by PNC/R leader Desmond Hoyte in his March 30 broadcast to the nation are the amendments to the Constitution based on the recommendations approved by the last parliament from the Constitution Reform Commission.

Those amendments include provisions that relate to the judiciary and would require the agreement of the President and the Leader of the Opposition for the appointments of Chancellor of the Judiciary and Chief Justice.

Other provisions would require the President to follow the advice of the Judicial Service Commission in the appointment of the High Court judges and amend the retirement age of the High Court judges from 62-65 years and of the Court of Appeal judges including the Chancellor and the Chief Justice from 65-68 years. The new retirement age would be applicable to judges who are appointed after the enactment of the amendments.

The provisions also require the State to provide conditions of service for the judges so that they would not have to resort to private practice. The provisions will also cater for the appointment of part-time judges as well as prevent the granting of extension of tenure to judges who had reached the age of retirement.

The provisions will also remove the power of appointment of the Director of Public Prosecutions from the President to the Judicial Service Commission.

Another amendment will remove the Office of the Auditor General from any form of executive control, thereby ensuring its independence.

Other legislation relating to the amendment of the Constitution to provide for the establishment of a number of commissions including the Indigenous People's Commission, the Rights of the Child Commission, the Women and Gender Equity Commission, the Human Rights Commission and the Public Procurement Commission are also to be tabled.

Another piece of legislation that the National Assembly would have before it would be the bill which recognised a number of fundamental rights and to which President Jagdeo refused to assent because of the clause banning discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation. President Jagdeo withheld his consent following representations made to him by sections of the religious community. All these amendments would require a two-thirds majority to be enacted.

Other legislation that would have to be tabled would be that providing for the institutional arrangements to be put in place for the operationalising of the Ethnic Relations Commission. Another critical measure that should be tabled very early is the Maritime Law Enforcement Agreement, which the government signed last week with the United States. The agreement takes effect under US law when the National Assembly has ratified it and this would clear the way for Guyana to access resources under a number of other bilateral arrangements.